Tens of thousands of immigrants, mainly North Africans, who have arrived in Italy over recent months are to get temporary humanitarian visas.
The documents mean they will be able to travel around much of Europe.
Roberto Maroni, Italian Immigration Minister, said:
“We will give temporary visas for humanitarian protection to those people who are in Italy, not everyone, but those who fulfil certain conditions, which will allow them to move around the Schengen member countries.”
Rome said the vast majority of people who land in Italy want to join families or friends elsewhere in Europe.
The move came after France blocked Tunisian migrants at the French-Italy border, saying it had the right to stop migrants with no papers.
European Commission spokesman Martin Grabiec said: “Having a Schengen visa doesn’t necessarily mean someone has the automatic right to move around within the Schengen zone. People from other countries must fulfil certain conditions.”
Meanwhile, rescue efforts were continuing near Sicily after a boat carrying hundreds of refugees from Libya sank yesterday. Fifty one people were picked up but survivors said another 150 people at least were still missing.
Nearly 26,000 immigrants have reached Italy’s coasts since the beginning of the year.